Missouri opened Big 12 Conference play in about the sweetest way possible.
With two close wins against Kansas on Wednesday in Lawrence, Kan., the Missouri softball team extended its winning streak to 21 games, breaking a 16-year-old MU record for most consecutive wins set by the 1995 softball team.
The No. 13 Tigers (24-3, 2-0 Big 12) won both games by one run, but got those wins in two different ways. Missouri never trailed Kansas (26-5) in the first game, and then had to come from behind to win the second.
In the second game, Missouri rallied from a 5-4 deficit to win 6-5. Catherine Lee's two-run home run in the sixth inning secured the Tigers' win.
“As soon as she hit it, I was like, ‘Yes, we’ve got this game in the bag now,’” pitcher Chelsea Thomas said in a phone interview.
Thomas was confident because it was then her turn to step onto the mound. Although Thomas had already thrown a complete game in Missouri’s win earlier in the afternoon, coach Ehren Earleywine decided to bring her in to relieve Kristin Nottelmann in the sixth inning.
“The decision tonight was totally on a whim,” Earleywine said in a phone interview. “I went into tonight thinking Chelsea’s going to throw one game and Nottelmann’s going to throw another game and that’s that. We’re not going to cross over and there’s not going to be any extra pitches for either of them. But when you get into the heat of the moment, I felt like Chelsea could shut them down in the sixth and seventh.”
Earleywine was right. Thomas didn’t allow a run, striking out four of the eight batters she faced in the last two innings of the game. Thomas, who had never recorded a save at Missouri heading into this season, picked up her third of the year.
In the first game, Missouri took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth before giving up any runs. Catcher Megan Christopher and second baseman Abby Vock each hit solo home runs, one right after the other, to score two runs for the Tigers in the third inning.
In the top of the fifth inning, shortstop Jenna Marston scored when designated hitter Marla Schweisberger was walked with the bases loaded. Kansas made things interesting in the bottom of the inning, scoring two unearned runs to pull within one. But that would be all the Jayhawks could muster, and the Tigers held on for a 3-2 win.
“Two road wins is not easy anywhere in the Big 12,” Earleywine said. “I’m really proud of our girls because not only did they get two road wins, but they did it against our rival.”